Story & photos by Tim Huffman
Slow trolling is a great way to put more baits in one spot, but when wind is bouncing the boat, holding the poles in your hands reduces bait bounce and lets you feel the bite.
Mid-Depth locations are often year-round, dependable places to fish. Add special cover and it sweetens the spot. The following are a couple of options for finding and catching fish this fall.
Where Are The Fish?
Fall crappie move. They make runs similar to what they do in the spring. They also stay in deep water and suspend up high in the water column. And, they settle in mid-depth water. Mid-depth might include 5- to 12-foot water in stained-muddy waters. Clear water might be 7 to 20 feet.
Shad schools are a key ingredient in fall crappie migration. As the shad go so do the crappie. When you find the cover, mid-depth and shad combination, your fall fishing trip will be fun and successful.
Submerged stumps and laydowns are all examples of good cover. Some may be permanently attached to the bottom while others float in and settle during high water. They all can be mid-depth crappie magnets. Natural wood is rare in many of the older lakes but in others, like Truman Lake, trees, stumps and snags are everywhere.
Finding the cover usually requires spending some time with electronics. Time spent finding the right covers is worth the time. If the cover is on a drop or other special feature it will likely be very good.
Turn on a good Side Imaging unit and idle in the Big Sandy Arm of Kentucky Lake. You’ll find plenty of manmade crappie beds. Fishermen have put them on every point, hump, ledge and flat in the creek. Some of these beds are made by driving stakes in the bottom, some by sinking brush and a few are PVC beds.
Manmade cover has the advantage of being in the exact spot where you want it. A GPS waypoint allows you to find and get right on it again or at a later date.
Casting To Crappie
A fun thing about fall crappie is they are positioned at a depth where casting is a good tactic. Pat Kalmerton, a northern expert, guide and a product promoter (wolfpackadventrues.com).
“I love to fish anywhere I go in this country,” says Kalmerton. “I fish for a lot of species but crappie are always a fun fish to catch. People think you just throw a hook out and start catching them but that isn’t so. Crappie can be caught in numbers but you have to be in the right spot with the right presentation to catch them.”
Kalmerton says to catch crappie you have to be where the fish are located. That sounds simple but it can be difficult. Find the good cover on the right contours and you’ll find the crappie. Depth is temperature dependent no mater what part of the country you’re in.
Casting is a fun way to catch fish from cover. A spinning reel and lightweight baits are all that’s needed. “Some days the fishing is great and some times you’ll have a front come through and fishing will be tough. The fish aren’t going to bite like they will on a better day. Switch to a very lightweight minnow rig. I use a Frabill aerated bucket to keep the minnows healthy and very active. That makes a difference. Just suspend the minnow at the top of the brush with a small float. The float keeps the minnow at the right depth and is a good strike indicator.”
He says one trick worth the time and effort is using an Aqua-View. “An underwater camera can show the fish and show you exactly what the cover looks like. It reveals how fish are positioned to the cover giving you a better chance of catching them. It’s a learning and confirmation tool.”
Kentucky Lake’s rich resources of crappie condos offer great fall fishing. Strike King’s Tim Blackley is a familiar face on the national tournament trail. His favorite method for catching these fall crappie is slow trolling.
“We will tightline or push floats,” says Blackley. “The float are good when wind is low but they have to come off if wind is up and causing a lot of waves. This time of year we might be fishing in 10 feet of water or 30 feet of water but our baits will be at the same depth. For example, fish might be in a 14-foot brush pile with fish at 11 feet. The fish will be at the same 11 foot depth in the 30 foot water, too. However, a brushpile positions the fish where they are easier to catch.”
Blackley equipment includes BnM BGJP 14-foot poles, Driftmaster Crappie Stalkers and a variety of bait rigs. Combinations of plastics and live minnows make up his arsenal at the end of his lines. The Slabalicious is a new Strike King boot tail bait that works when trolling. He also likes the Crappie Thunder body slid up on the shank of his minnow hooks. He will typically have eight poles out the front with he and his partner setting side by side in front of the boat. If wind is real bad he will hold a pole in each hand.
“One important improvement in recent years is the rod holders on their own individual stems. We can adjust each pole precisely. When we get a strike we only see the bite on the pole it hits, not like using a rack where all the poles jump.”
Blackley says, “Fish a piece of cover later if you don’t catch a fish the first time. We will come back and scan the cover. If fish are on it, they might be biting now and they weren’t the first time. At a Columbus tournament we did mediocre the first day but went to the same spots on day two instead of moving. We caught the second biggest stringer on day two and moved up to the top ten. A lot of times fish are there and just don’t bite.
-Sun/Clouds: Mid-depth cover with sun can put fish tighter to the cover. Clouds can cause fish to move to the outside edges or roam.
-Wind: Strong wind is a problem for both casting and slow trolling. Many mid-depth locations are in open water and susceptible to wind.
-Current: Unless the cover is in a creek or river with current, it shouldn’t be a problem.
-Boat Traffic: Pleasure boaters are few this time of year. No jet skies running circles around you!
-Fishing Pressure: Popular spots can have fishermen on them even in the fall. But a lot of fishermen will be off the lake because of hunting season.